Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Sat Apr 11 2009 - 17:29:13 EDT

This is getting interestingly involved. For my own sake, let me start at
a beginning.

Methodological Naturalism is rejecting the use of gods or God (a la
Murphy) in any "scientific" explanation. Historically, this entailed the
acceptance of something like a mechanistic description (metaphor) for the
workings of the universe, or at least in our theories (explanations, or
stories). More broadly it entails, I think, the rejection of
unpredictable behavior. I don't want to say that it need be lawful, but
it wouldn't be viewed as science, I think, if it did not entail some
regularity. Such a notion follows according to our classic understanding
of what knowledge is about, while if not universal, at least predictive
under certain conditions (e.g., Snell's law, or even economic laws or

What in this description makes it "natural" and not god-like?

Consider economic laws or sociological theories. These are theories of
groups of individuals, even freely acting individuals. Nonetheless they
have dispositonal properties, esp. as a group. Freedom does not entail
the absence of dispositional properties. Such properties are
incapable of describing the complete behavior of freely acting
individuals, but they are capable of describing ceteris parabus properties
of such individuals under restricted aspects of their behavior.

What is natural here? I have presumed in this instance of economic and
sociological theory that the individuals involved are freely acting,
indeed the theories likely presume that, for otherwise they may not be
free to express their dispositional natures. So it appears that
their free wills, even taken in an incompatabilist sense, does not
prohibit them from being the subjects of a "naturalistic" science.

It would seem that incompatabilist free will cannot be the subject of a
"natural" science because, while its behavior my indicate a certain
regularity, the very notion of such a freedom entails a capability of
violating that regularity, and even acting arbitrarily, despite the great
majority of our actions are not arbitrary.

However, as I have noted previously, our notion of what is "natural" has
changed over the course of science's history. Why might monads not be
"natural"? Why not permit non-combatabilist free will as "natural"? It
appears to me that nothing prohibits it. Indeed, why not permit gods to
be "natural"?

The ulitimate objection, it seems, is not whether they are "natural" or
not. It is, instead, that we cannot make a science, a knowledge, or
regularity of them. We can know the character of a freely acting agent,
and as such make rough predictions of its behavior. But inasmuch as it is
a free agent, it is not bound by that character, or perhaps that its
character does not determine its behavior (e.g., witness the difficulty of
determing a Good and All-Powerful God's specific behavior).

If this makes sense, I suggest the following.

1) We do study God scientifically all the time. Indeed, this is just what
we mean by science. We study God under certain aspects and constraints.
Our science reflects a predictable behavior of God. But science is unable
to investigate God in His totality. Fortunately, God's behavior in many
of these aspects is expressible in a lawful, and even mathematical manner.

2) The same goes for the study of humans. Scientific explanations of much
of human behavior requires no mention of wills (e.g., the nervous system),
but this is not true of all human sciences. Some presume the existence of
wills, even free wills (perhaps in a combatabilist sense). Are wills
natural? As long as the behaviors associated with aspects of that will
are somewhat predictable.

3) Simply put, science, inasmuch as it is to remain a science, studies the
regular aspects of the world. Natural simply entails regularity or

4) Hence, MN simply entails that our explanations involve predictive
features and entities (even gods if aspects of their behavior is
predictable). I think we have to say this in order to include humans as
subjects of science. That is, humans need not be machines in order to be
proper subjects of science, but they must possess dispositional
properties, something that God or gods likewise possess.

Well, that was my run at it.

God bless,


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Received on Sat Apr 11 17:29:57 2009

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